Carlos Beltran's first base experience a testament to his professionalismSlugger willing to do whatever it takes, even an emergency appearance at a new spot
When Beltran walked into Yankee Stadium Sunday afternoon, the only thing that was "different" was his place in the starting lineup; Derek Jeter's absence moved the 37-year-old up to the No. 2 hole, but he still saw himself penciled into his usual spot in right field, a position he's played more than 400 times over the last few years.
Little did Beltran know that even after his third inning home run that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead, he would end up the night's hero for another reason: his first career appearance at first base.
The infield was already shuffled due to Brian Roberts' barking back and Derek Jeter's questionable quad, so when Francisco Cervelli had to leave the game with a hamstring injury in the fourth inning, Joe Girardi had to figure out a solution to Abbott & Costello's most famous riddle.
"I didn't have a whole lot of choices...Ichiro was the other one," Girardi said after the game. "I asked him if he'd ever played first base, and he said no, but (I'll do) whatever you need, so I told him to get a mitt and go."
Players and staffers at every stop of Beltran's career could tell you the kind of professional he is, and even the Yankees have already seen it; whether it's hosting a forum for Yankees minor-leaguers of Latino descent or representing the team at functions, Beltran has instantly become a leader both on and off the field.
Now, you can add emergency first baseman to that list of "taking one for the team," even if it's something he never thought about, never really wanted to do, and somewhat jokingly hoped he'd never have to do again.
"When they told me I was going to first, a lot of things went through my mind. I was just praying that they didn't hit the baseball to me, but I got the job done," Beltran laughed. "I've never played there in my life (and) I hope I never have to do it again!"
The other possible choice, Ichiro Suzuki, echoed that, laughing through his interpreter that "if (Girardi) would have said go to first, I might have said my leg hurts," but both he and Beltran understood the enormity of the situation.
"I didn't know who was on the bench. Joe also asked Ichiro if he ever played first and he said no, so Joe told me I was going and I said okay," Beltran said. "I'm the bigger target, and I just tried to do the best I could."
Starting pitcher Ivan Nova may have joked that "you kind of just have to stand there" in regards to playing first base, even he understood that sometimes, you have to do whatever it takes to get through a tough time.
"That's Carlos. He's a veteran guy. It wasn't what you expect, but he's a gamer," Nova said. "He wants to be out there helping the team."
"The man is willing to do anything you ask him to do," Girardi added of his veteran slugger. "Whether it's put him someplace he's never been, move him around in the order - the man just wants to play and he wants to contribute."
Having to ask players to try new things was a regularity in 2013 - see Vernon Wells' first career appearances at first, second, and third base - but the skipper said that experience actually made it easier to figure out what could've been a head-scratcher of a situation.
"This was pretty regular last year, and I got a lot of good practice sometimes trying to find 10 healthy bodies to play," Girardi said, "but it tells you the type of player (Beltran) is. It's very, very unselfish."
Beltran may or may not see some more time at first base as his career winds down, which is something he said he wasn't even thinking about. And, even though the Yankees have no healthy infielders on the 40-man roster to summon to replace Cervelli or Roberts or Jeter, they will surely make a move (if not two) to get somebody to New York to backup Kelly Johnson at first base until Mark Teixeira returns.
But if something crazy happens again, Girardi can count on Beltran to "take one for the team" if that's the best option.
"We understand that in the course of a season, some guys are going to get hurt here and there. It is what it is, so we have to find a way to play with what we have, go out and do our best," Beltran said. "We have to do whatever it takes to go out there and put ourselves in a position to win."
Even if that whatever is something a man had never done in 37-plus years of life.
Such is baseball, and such is the man that is Carlos Beltran.